Improving Infant Development

A recent study shows an iron supplement for anemia and treatment for malaria help motor and language development in African children.

Anemia, or the occurrence of too few red blood cells in the bloodstream, results in lower oxygen flow to the muscles, tissues and organs. Because less oxygen circulates, anemia is thought to lead to both motor and language developmental problems in children. Researchers from around the world tested the efficacy of iron supplement to treat anemia and, likewise, help in the development of affected children.

Researchers tested about 600 children in Zanzibar, Africa, aged 6 to 59 months. Ninety-seven percent were anemic while 18 percent were classified as severely anemic. Signs of malaria, a parasitic disease, were also nearly universal. Researchers gave a 20mg supplement of iron or a placebo to children for one year. For children who were severely anemic, researchers also gave oral iron tablets for 30 days in addition to the first iron supplement. Lastly, treatment for malaria consisted of a tablet of mebendazole, a medication commonly used in veterinary practice to combat parasitic infections. One group received mebendazole while another took a placebo.

After one year, researchers tested motor and language development of the children. They found iron supplements significantly improved iron levels and also improved language development and motor development. Secondly, researchers found mebendazole significantly reduced the number and severity of various parasitic infections, but did not significantly affect developmental progress. While researchers acknowledge the need to determine a specific dosage of treatment, researchers say their study shows long-term treatment with oral iron and using mebendazole could help combat anemia and malaria.

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